MILWAUKEE — Corbin Burnes spun a curveball for his 107th and final pitch. When Pirates right fielder Cole Tucker swung and missed, Burnes punched his glove and walked off the field with another seven-inning gem complete.
After a short Spring Training and two relatively controlled starts to begin the regular season, the shackles are off for the reigning National League Cy Young Award winner.
Burnes cleared seven innings for the second straight start in the Brewers’ 5-2 win over the Pirates at American Family Field and reached double-digit strikeouts for the 13th time in his career. He also threw the most pitches of any starter in the Majors so far this season, and said he felt strong throughout.
“[Brewers manager Craig] Counsell asked me that right after I was done just to see how the body was and where everything was at right at the end. Everything was good,” Burnes said. “If I’m rolling out there, I think he’s going to let me go for the most part.”
Said Brewers right fielder Hunter Renfroe: “It’s electric stuff.”
Renfroe hit his first Brewers home run on a remarkably uneventful night in the field, thanks to Burnes and relievers Devin Williams and Josh Hader. Daniel Vogelbach and Josh VanMeter hit solo home runs off Burnes, but for the ninth time in franchise history, no Brewers outfielder recorded a putout. The only one to touch the baseball all night was Renfroe, who gobbled up Pittsburgh’s only other hits, a pair of singles.
“It was boring out there,” said Renfroe. “I was making sure [center fielder Lorenzo] Cain knew how many outs there were and I was walking around, like, ‘Golly, we haven’t gotten a ball.’ I told [Burnes] before the game, ‘You might as well strike out all 27, it would be a lot easier on us.’ He kind of took that as a challenge, I guess.”
“It’s rare,” said Burnes of the quiet night for his outfielders, “but that’s kind of the approach the Pirates had. They’re obviously trying to not strike out when they have two strikes so they’re trying to shorten up and put the ball in play. I was able to get into a lot of positive counts, force them to take more defensive swings and put the ball in play.”
Burnes had plenty of pitches to work with. Before Tuesday, the only pitcher in baseball to top the century mark was Boston’s Nathan Eovaldi, who threw 101 pitches in a win at Detroit on April 13. Burnes joined the club Tuesday along with the Mets’ Max Scherzer, who threw 102 pitches and allowed only one hit in seven solid innings in Game 2 of a doubleheader against the Giants.
Scherzer flirted with a no-hitter, and while Burnes’ bid didn’t last as long, his early innings were dominant. Pitching with an early lead thanks to Rowdy Tellez’s two-run homer in a four-run second inning, Burnes didn’t allow a baserunner until the Pirates’ No. 9 hitter, Kevin Newman, punched a two-out single over second base in the third. Burnes didn’t allow a run until Vogelbach punished a misplaced sinker for a 420-foot home with the bases empty in the sixth.
VanMeter hit his solo home run in the seventh off Burnes, who recovered to make Tucker strikeout victim No. 10. It was equal opportunity swing and miss; seven of the nine hitters in the Pirates’ starting lineup struck out at least once, including each of their top five hitters.
Burnes was charged with two runs on four hits in his seven innings. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out 10, giving him a Major League-best seven starts since the beginning of 2020 in which he reached double-digit strikeouts without walking a batter.
Just as notably, the reins were off. Burnes topped out at six innings and roughly 80 pitches in the last of his three Cactus League starts before throwing 83 pitches in five innings against the Cubs on Opening Day and 97 pitches in seven scoreless innings at Baltimore on April 13. Last year, while Burnes was setting strikeout records on the way to becoming the Brewers’ first Cy Young Award winner since Pete Vuckovich in 1982, he didn’t top 100 pitches until June 6, in his 10th start.
“I just thought he was crisp the whole night,” Counsell said. “I thought he was crisp in the seventh inning. There’s little things we look for and I thought he was still doing them really well. This was the best start of the year. He was really on tonight.”